“They Are the Sunshine”: Outreach Volunteers at BCC

June is nearly here, bringing summer vacations, a profusion of wildflowers, and a full month’s worth of cancer survivorship days at hospitals around the Bay Area. These health and education fairs are an essential service cancer centers provide for their patients, providing a chance to learn about clinical services such as dietary or physical therapy, emotional support, practical help such as wigs or wheelchairs, and financial assistance during treatment.

Survivorship fairs are a cornerstone of the BCC outreach calendar, because they give us the opportunity to inform people who may need us about our free programs and services. Our efforts are powered by a team of energetic, knowledgeable, and compassionate volunteers. These individuals give their time to inform our community about the services BCC can offer people touched by a diagnosis of breast or ovarian cancer. Please see the end of this article for a list of June events where you can find a BCC outreach table.

In honor of the upcoming cancer survivorship days, this article highlights two breast cancer survivors who have decided to give their time to help us reach more individuals. Thank you to Hongmei Yu and Jackie Tornes for all you do and for sharing your volunteer perspectives with readers. Hooray for you and for the outreach team! We are grateful.

How did you come to volunteer at Bay Area Cancer Connections (BCC)?

Jackie TornesJackie: I had contacted BCC when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They were extremely helpful and caring.  I decided to volunteer as a Buddy after I completed my treatments over 15 years ago, and joined the outreach program last year after my son left home for college and I retired.


Hongmei YuHongmei: Being a scientist in the cancer drug discovery field for many years, I used to think discovering a drug was the MOST important thing in saving one’s life. But I finally realized that there is much more in life at diagnosis, during treatment, and after treatment, and that life does not just mean alive. I was lucky to get the help that I needed [for my quality of life]. I knew of BCC since I started my treatment for breast cancer. BCC found me a buddy and I got to make a few very good friends through BCC programs. My entire treatment was filled with friendships, support, and hope. Two years later, BCC helped me with back-to-work issues. I decided to volunteer at BCC this year, as I value BCC’s work and efforts to help cancer patients and cancer survivors on almost all the issues we face, and I wanted to join BCC to give [back].

What appealed to you about being part of the outreach team?

Jackie: BCC’s outreach program provides information and support to the community about breast and ovarian cancer.  As a breast cancer survivor, I hope this information can help someone to better understand the importance of self-exams and testing as well as knowing the resources that are available to them.

Hongmei: I like our team! I feel very happy when I talk and work with the ladies in our team.  Everyone is very supportive, enthusiastic, positive and team-oriented—they are the sunshine! I enjoy meeting people, educating people, introducing BCC’s programs and goals to people, and making BCC more visible to the public. I learn a lot from people at conferences and events. I am proud of being part of BCC as BCC is really doing great work.

What do you find most satisfying about your outreach work?  What makes this work worthwhile to you?

Jackie: One of the most satisfying aspects of this work is when I see mothers getting their daughters to learn about self-exams and detection as well as general information about breast and ovarian cancer, especially the importance of early detection and treatment.

Please think about a particularly enjoyable outreach event you attended on behalf of BCC.  What specifically made the experience enjoyable?

Jackie: I attended BCC’s Annual Conference & Resource Fair for the first time last year. I enjoyed meeting and talking to many attendees and volunteers as well as providing information to the conference attendees and answering their questions.  It was also interesting to attend some of the informative presentations.

Hongmei: I enjoyed my first outreach event with [co-volunteers] Judith and Miriam—the 16th Annual Cancer Prevention Institute of California Breast Cancer Conference. Judith and Miriam were great, they [taught] me about BCC programs, the history of the conference, and the other non-profit organizations at the conference. This was the first time I served at an outreach table in my life — it is different from giving a poster presentation as I have done before—but I enjoyed it! I was glad to get so close to patients and talk with them about their needs and what BCC can do to help.  This was the first patient-oriented community conference I have been to. I was amazed by the [size] and quality of this event, and [appreciated hearing about the progress of] some research studies.

What would you say are the best things about volunteering at BCC?

Jackie: The best thing about volunteering at BCC is the people.  This includes both the wonderful and caring staff and volunteers, as well as the people I meet at the events.

Hongmei: I like working with the staff and volunteers at BCC. Everybody is very helpful, supportive and understanding. It is a warm working environment. I also like the work I do—I learn as I help.

What would you tell a friend who’s been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer about BCC?

Jackie: I referred my best friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, to BCC. I told her about the great, caring people who work and volunteer here. I told her about the resources available at BCC with many knowledgeable people who can answer her questions and/or direct her to other resources. She knew I was a buddy and she was able to [request a buddy and] be connected with someone who had a similar diagnosis [to hers].

Hongmei: I’ve introduced a few friends to BCC. I tell them that BCC is the best place to go for people who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. They will find most [of the] information and help that they need at BCC.

What would make your volunteer experience at BCC even better?

Jackie: I wish I had more time to volunteer at BCC.

Hongmei: I’d like to get more involved and try different roles. I find that the more activities I am involved in at BCC, the more I know, and the more I can help people.

What activities do you enjoy outside of BCC?

Jackie: I enjoy spending time with my husband and our son, who is now in college. I have a rose garden where I care for the plants and share the flowers with my friends. Since I stopped working, I started to exercise more regularly. I volunteer at Packards Children Hospital and a few other places.

Hongmei: Hiking and painting, I also enjoy volunteering in my daughters’ classroom.

Upcoming Community Events

Look for the Bay Area Cancer Connections outreach table at these upcoming events in June.

El Camino Hospital Survivors’ Day, Mountain View
Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kaiser Seeds of Hope Cancer Survivors’ Festival, Santa Clara
Sunday, June 11, 2017

Good Samaritan Hospital Cancer Survivors’ Day, San Jose
Thursday, June 15, 2017

Alta Bates Comprehensive Cancer Center & Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center Survivorship Symposium, Oakland
Wednesday, June 21, 2017